Should Floridians be worried the state’s law enforcement radio partner is conducting a fire sale?

in Peter by

As predicted in this space in December, the Melbourne-based Harris Corporation recently announced the sale of one of its government technology divisions. No, it wasn’t Harris’ radio business as rumored, but the company did sell off its government IT services division to Veritas Capital for $690 million.

While the sale of this division is being spun as a way for Harris to focus on existing and new contracts, it will do little to quiet those who have long speculated that Harris’ radio division may not actually be profitable and its long-term outlook remains bleak. According to several industry  sources, the future of Harris Corp as a provider of law enforcement communications may well hinge on whether it wins the pending Statewide Law Enforcement Radio System (SLERS) contract with the State of Florida.

The worst kept secret in Florida procurement circles is that Harris’ current contract managing the SLERS is one of the worst contracts ever negotiated in state history. That’s because the cost of the radio system as originally designed in the early 2000s has steadily creeped up with the addition of towers necessary for covering “dead zones” and new equipment Harris Corp has introduced over the life of the contract.

On top of these costs, Harris Corp lobbyists have made a play for $7 million in additional funding for Project 25 radios the past two legislative sessions. These are radios that didn’t exist when the current SLERS system was first conceived – radios that will conveniently work on the new system should Harris win the estimated $1 billion contract.

Keep in mind: the SLERS contract currently held by Harris was originally awarded to Com-Net Ericsson in 2000. In 2001, the radio company was sold to M/A-Com, which changed its name to Tyco Electronics in 2008. In 2009, Tyco Electronics was sold to Harris, which inherited the contract as it stands today.

Some law enforcement insiders have speculated that Harris Corp has not, in fact, invested enough company dollars into the system throughout its life. That means the system is entirely funded on the taxpayer’s dime, with you and me having to absorb the cost overruns, equipment upgrades, and anything else deemed necessary to keeping the system up and running.

Harris Corp has suffered setbacks in building other statewide law enforcement radio systems. According to at least one Florida-based report, “cities such as Las Vegas that claim Harris-built systems have led to failure during critical moments, such as officer-involved shootings.” In Pennsylvania, state leaders recently dumped Harris from managing the statewide system after repeated system failures.

With the Florida Department of Management Services soliciting bids to build the new SLERS system, only time will tell if Harris’ setbacks in the radio business will matter in the end. The contract is expected to be awarded in August.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.